How Many Chickens Is My Co-Pay?

Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall brings us the alarming tale of one Sue Lowden, who believes that the answer to our health-care woes lies in shifting from a system based on insurance to one based on barter. Pressed on this rather quaint 17th-century notion by a local news station, Lowden stuck to her guns. "I'm telling you that this works. You know, before we all started having health care, in the olden days, our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor."

Well look, you might say, the country is full of idiots and crazy people. What's the big deal? Who is this person, anyway? Some Tea Party protester? A misguided local store owner who got herself on TV? No, she's the probable Republican nominee for the United States Senate in Nevada, and according to current polls, she could well unseat Harry Reid and be a senator this time next year.

Every legislature has a divide between "workhorses" and "show horses," the ones who care about legislating and the ones who preen for the cameras. Both parties have their share of the latter, to be sure. But there are two things Lowden's innovative thoughts on a chicken-based health-care system bring up. First of all, just who are the Republican workhorses these days? Democrats didn't have control of Congress for 12 years between 1994 and 2006, and though they spent plenty of time on theatrics during that period, as the opposition must, they were still ready to legislate once they got control back. Can we really say the same thing about today's Republicans?

Second, Lowden's colorful proposals highlight an important difference between the parties: the distribution of crazy. Both parties have people who are, shall we say, unserious. On both sides, many of these people are backbenchers, not having too much influence over what really happens in Congress -- your Louie Gohmerts, your Michele Bachmanns. But the difference is that the crazy seems to climb much higher up the ladder on the right side of the aisle. There are certainly plenty of Democratic senators who are undistinguished. But can you think of any who believe that our health-care problems would be over if everyone in America could say to his or her doctor, "Give me that MRI, and I'll paint your barn"? And this comes at a time when Republican-controlled state legislatures are doing things like officially joining the "birther" craziness and forbidding the implantation of mind-control microchips by nefarious conspiracies.

For all I know, the Republican leadership is terribly concerned about the damage Lowden and people like her might do to their reputation as a deeply serious party with deeply serious solutions to our nation's problems. But I doubt it.

-- Paul Waldman

You may also like